Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
One of the collateral phenomenons of the great whiskey resurgence of the 21st century has been the periodic (seemingly organic….?) eruption of micro-crazes surrounding sub-genres in the overall world of whisk(e)y. Not long after the classic ‘Old Fashioned’ cocktail took over the vodka & tonic as the most ordered call at your local bar, large swaths of the population seemingly decided concurrently that rye whiskey was the superior whiskey of choice.
As we have intimated in this space before if the last few years of sales figures are any indicator, it would appear we are in the nascent stages of American barley whiskey taking its turn behind the wheel driving the next big sub-genre boom.
In fact, when you consider that Crown Royal, long the standard-bearer (and best selling) of mid-tier Canadian whisky, has also gotten into the game by releasing the ‘Barley Edition’ of its award-winning ‘Noble Collection’ series, it’s safe to say the whiskey industry at large sees great potential for continued growth in the category.
The seventh expression in the limited release ‘Noble Collection’, the ‘Barley Edition’ represents Crown Royal’s final entry in their series of annual special releases begun in 2016. The ‘Noble Edition’ was originally launched in part to pay tribute to England’s King George VI, a figure who looms large in the Crown Royal mythology. George VI was an unlikely king. He ascended to the throne in 1936 in the heat-up to WWII when his older brother and heir apparent Prince Edward abdicated his claim so he could go marry a saucy American dame (the cheekiness here is all mine).
As the story goes, George VI and his wife visited mainland Canada in May and June of 1939, less than six months before England (and all members of the Commonwealth) would declare war on Germany. In doing so, he became the first sitting monarch in history to visit not only Canada, but the entire North American continent. According to lore, a whisky entrepreneur, upon hearing news of the impending visit, set out to distill and produce a batch of whisky fit for royalty and, long story short– Crown Royal was born.
Though officially a ‘Canadian whisky’ the blend of the flagship Crown Royal brand is of a mash bill more closely resembling bourbon than your typical (read: Very high rye mash) Canadian whisky. In that sense, a limited release from a mash bill of 100% barley should naturally skew closer to the original in terms of body, sweetness, and vanilla character. That is certainly the case here, although it lacks the robustness of a typical high malted barley whisky. The ‘Barley Edition’ blend is comprised of full-barley whiskies from a mash of 85% unmalted and 15% malted barley , making it perhaps closer to an Irish whiskey than any other style.
There are a myriad of reasons to release a particular style of whiskey, especially when making the decision to release a single grain. With this particular bottling, which prices out at $79.99 per 750ml bottle, I found myself grasping at the ‘why’ of this release. It lacks any sense of terroir as you would get from Scotch, and is too flaccid and angular to really embody the soulfulness of Irish. The body was a bit light for my tastes, possibly a result of such a small percentage of the barley being malted, possibly simply due to the barley that was used, or some combination of both.
Whatever the case, this limited edition release left me wanting more from it in almost every sense of the experience. If I had to sum up this dram in a mere two words I would say it’s dominant characteristic is ‘untapped potential.’
Tasting Notes: Crown Royal Noble Collection Barley Edition
Vital Stats: ABV 45% or 90 proof; 100% barley (85% unmalted, 15% malted); 79.99 750ml; No age statement, blend of whiskies all aged at least 5 years
Appearance: A brilliant Yellow Gold with stark clarity and low viscosity.
Nose: A medium sized burst of caramel is the first note that greets you, followed by some oak, cereal, and roasted almond, all with an underlying, subtle ripe green apple. Some time in the glass and the bouquet came out much rounder and softer, with Vanilla playing a more prominent role. About forty minutes in the glass and the sweetness really coalesced into some almost mouthwatering notes of browned butter and marzipan.
Palate: Sweet caramel and buttered corn coat the palate with a light to medium mouthfeel. Somewhat silky but overall on the leaner side. There’s a touch of “cinnamon sprinkled on wet clay” happening on the mid palate. The finish is smooth and sweet with an echo of that spice but it disappears with a disappointing precipitousness.